I’m sure I’ll be spending some time going over the basic version of the DMG, which the World Engineer was kind enough to link and which you can find here, but I had to get this one out. Most of the document is example monsters, so the first section with real, usable DMing information begins on page 56 (of 61). There, the rules discuss encounter difficulty and construction via XP budgets.
Page 57 has a large table with XP values per player. The intent is that the DM will get a player’s level, look up that row in the table, add it to the numbers corresponding to the second player’s level, then the third, etc. to get the budget. Then the DM thinks of an encounter, adds the XP values for the monsters together, multiplies that total by a number from another table based on the number of monsters in the encounter, and compares that to the budget.
If you think that’s a lot more simple arithmetic than “4th-level party gets CR 4 encounter”, you’re right, but I can’t fault them for trying to err on the side of balance. It’s not like CRs were perfect anyway. If nothing else it’s encouraging me to build monsters worth 163 XP just to see the math go wrong for other DMs.
And that’s the thing. 25% of page 57 is the table. Another 25% is a detailed example showing how the system works, because it’s complicated enough that it needs as much text to explain as the PHB’s description of the origin of magic. But what gets me is that another 25% of the page is a sidebar with the exact same example, to the word. Except in the sidebar, the math is wrong.
I get that the rules are still in flux (within reason—if major rules changes are still happening a month before the street date, that’s a bit worrying) and that being upset at the basic rules is like being mad at a video game in beta. But if the new process for designing encounters is so complicated that the designers get it wrong in published material the first time they try to explain it to players, maybe CRs weren’t so bad.